Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (I Corinthians 10:1-5) transports me to Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, the backyard of the Butler Bulldogs in what was billed as the greatest Cinderella story in sports history. It was March Madness and the Final Four of 2010, as Butler, from the unheralded mid-level Horizon League, sought to cap off an incredible season, bringing 25 straight wins into the championship game, including a bruising game against Michigan State to get into the final. Duke fans were all by their lonesome, as virtually the whole country cheered against the Devils and for the Bulldogs, hoping to see a Hoosiers movie in real time. It was a terrific game, back and forth the whole way, and came down to the wire with Butler down 2 and the ball in Bulldog star Gordon Hayward’s hands. His final shot looked good, but struck iron and left the team and the nation (minus the Dookies) with the proverbial wind knocked out of them and the rug pulled out from under them. Gordon Hayward fielded questions after the game, and when asked if the great run would eventually outlive the pain of defeat, he said no. For me, the strongest memory is going to be the loss. I hate losing. Coach Brad Stevens summed it up when asked about his players: They’re crushed. I mean, this matters.
The Apostle Paul could have been scripting such a heartbreaking Cinderella story when he wrote to the Corinthian church about the experience of the liberated Hebrew slaves. They made quite a run – escaping the powerful Egyptian empire after the death angel came through, crossing the Red Sea as the waters mounted up on each side, watching those same waters then drown the army in hot pursuit. They continued their streak, as God led them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. When they got hungry, God fed them with bread from heaven. When they got thirsty, they drank from the rock, which Paul said was Christ himself. Quite a story for a band of slaves on the run. It turned out to be a long and bruising season, and anyone watching, save for the few fans of Pharaoh and his imperial powerhouse, would have been cheering for these runaways. They got right up to the door, to the final leg of the journey, and for the majority, the season ended in disappointment. After all those miracles, after all that long journey, there was a “nevertheless” statement. God was not pleased, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Talk about getting the wind knocked out, and the rug pulled out. To get that far, to experience that much glory, only to be crushed in the end.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and advised them to remember this story. Don’t be unaware, he said, of what happened to your ancestors. It’s a cautionary tale. The church can bask in a lot of glory in its long season of wandering toward the Promised Land. There have been many miraculous experiences throughout our faith history. From enduring the persecution of the Romans to the abolition of slavery to the anti-poverty work of social gospel pioneers to the peacemaking movement, the church has indeed feasted on the bread of heaven and drank from the rock throughout its journey. But beware of basking in glory and resting on laurels, as the journey continues. The temptation will always be there to engage in idolatry and to long for the good old days of imperial life. Keep moving, the story tells us, and keep the faith. I look at the landscape of the wilderness today, and see a faith community comprised of those who long for imperial power, alongside those continuing the work of liberation. I see a mixed faith community, with some worshiping repressive cultural mores around sexuality, exclusive nationalism, military might and concentrated wealth, while others worship the God of grace, mercy, generosity, and unconditional love. It seems that it will always be a small minority who resists the cultural idols and maintains faith in the Way of grace and love. Marching toward a beloved community that includes true welcome for the foreigners in our midst, marriage equality for gays and lesbians, transforming initiatives of love toward enemies, sharing all things in common – it all sounds like a Cinderella story in the making. In the madness of our season, we should take Paul’s advice and remember all of the liberation theology story, how it ended up in crushing disappointment for the majority, and in the glory of the Promised Land and the beloved community for a few. Oh Lord, I want to be in that number.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Google+, FB, Twitter, etc.